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Bonded Leather Blues

Posted by Lesandre on

Bonded leather (also known as faux leather, bicast leather, blended leather, composite leather, recycled leather, reconstituted leather, or ultraleather) is a dirty word in our business. Every day we receive multiple emails and phone calls asking the same question, "Can I repair my flaking, peeling bonded leather?"

Flaking white bonded leather

The short answer is no. Generally, it's not worth the effort and money, especially when you look at the scope of the damage, like the picture below from headline “news”. More details in the long answer below or scroll down to the last picture for our solution to this quandary. 

Why are we an authority on the subject? We're a mother-daughter business with 40 years' experience as leather and vinyl repair professionals. More info here and here.

WCPA News story about bonded leather

Bonded leather is a synthetic made of petroleum goo and ground scrap leather. The surface will flake off or peel after just a year of gentle use or exposure to sun, revealing the woven mesh, fabric, or microfiber substrate. 

Cracking, flaking red bonded leather with faux suede substrate

There is no regulation for use of the term leather” in the United States and Canada. The Chinese lobbies carry too much weight, contrary to places like New Zealand where it is illegal to mislead consumers into buying the real thing. Bonded leather can't compete with marine-grade vinyl let alone genuine animal hide, yet it is more common than its authentic counterpart. It is all you'll find at big box stores, and it is the affordable (read cheap) option at many retailers. The irony is that the United States military spends billions each year defending petroleum interests, and much of it is being converted into shoddy furniture that degrades before our boys can return home to enjoy it! Congress, here's an opportunity to enact a decent law for a change!

High-quality furniture, on the other hand, will have good “bones” and “skin”—genuine leather—and will cost a few thousand (if not more) when purchased new.

Peeling, flaking composite leather

To properly repair faux leather, you'd begin by applying a repair compound like our FC1 Soft Filler to create a new vinyl-like surface. This creates water repellency and reflects light similarly to the original material. Dyeing the repair is the final step (or perhaps a coat of Clear Prep+Finish for more luster). 

However, repair compound that overlaps the existing unstable polyurethane surface is likely to suffer the same fate.

We have had several customers skip the repair compound and just use our colored dyes and Clear Prep+Finish to create a more uniform appearance. That being said, Rub 'n Restore® products are not designed for fabrics and may slightly stiffen these materials.

Some folks have painstakingly stripped and scraped away the polyurethane coating and then painted the fabric with Rustoleum® FlexSeal or other flexible/elastic coatings. If you're up for a huge project and huffing lots of chemicals, and we're not sure how more power to you!

But we Vinyl Ladies remain prejudiced against repairing bonded leather and skeptical of the long-lasting results. If you suffer from the bonded leather blues, we recommend shopping Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or garage sales for some good skin and bones needing only a little facelift. We like aniline leather.

Genuine aniline leather with body oil stains

Aniline leather is genuine and has a more natural and absorbent finish. You can often get aniline furniture for a song—just a couple hundred bucks—because of unsightly body oil or water stains that are impossible to clean. Professionals charge upward of $1,200 to extract the oil, seal, stain the leather, and they're often using solvent-based or elastomeric coatings (more about this here). 

Most people don't know genuine leather can be easily dyed with our unique product! Spend another $50-$100 on some Rub ’n Restore®, and you’ll have that luxurious furniture for which you’ve been lusting. It will probably last you 20 years, and your bonded leather blues will be only a memory!

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